200th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Essex Virtual Event with Nathaniel Philbrick

On November 20, 1820, the ill-fated whaleship Essex was struck by a whale, stranding its crew in three tiny whaleboats in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 1,300 miles from the nearest land. In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of this tragedy, the NHA is hosting a virtual event with award-winning best-selling author Nathaniel Philbrick. Moderated by Michael Harrison, NHA Obed Macy Research Chair, the discussion will reflect on the legacy of the Essex tragedy and the fate of its survivors.

We’re delighted to have Nat Philbrick help bring this gripping story to life in an apt setting under the whale skeleton in Gosnell Hall at the Whaling Museum in full view of the appropriately-small whaleboat. Philbrick’s New York Times bestseller, In the Heart of the Sea, published in 2000 and which won the National Book Award for nonfiction, has been recognized as a monumental work of history forever placing the Essex tragedy in the American historical canon.

Banner image adapted from a pencil drawing by Essex seaman and survivor, Thomas Nickerson (1805–83), from his first-hand manuscript diary of the Essex disaster, 1876. MS106 F1

Nathaniel Philbrick, photography Christopher Noble

Nathaniel Philbrick grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he attended Linden Elementary School and Taylor Allderdice High School. He earned a BA in English from Brown University and an MA in America Literature from Duke University, where he was a James B. Duke Fellow. He was Brown University’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978, the same year he won the Sunfish North Americans in Barrington, RI. After working as an editor at Sailing World magazine, he wrote and edited several books about sailing, including The Passionate Sailor, Second Wind, and Yaahting, A Parody.

In 1986, Philbrick moved to Nantucket with his wife Melissa and their two children. In 1994, he published his first book about the island’s history, Away Off Shore, followed by a study of the Nantucket’s native legacy titled Abram’s Eyes. He is the founding director of the Egan Maritime Institute and a research fellow at the Nantucket Historical Association.

In 2000, he published the New York Times bestseller, In the Heart of the Sea,
winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction, followed by Sea of Glory,
winner of the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize and the
Albion-Monroe Award from the National Maritime Historical Society, and Mayflower, finalist for both the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History and the Los Angeles Times Book Award and winner of the Massachusetts Book Award for nonfiction. His writing has also appeared in Vanity Fair, the New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe. He has appeared on the Today Show, the Morning Show, Dateline, PBS’s American Experience, CSPAN, and NPR.


The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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